Commissioners deliberate courthouse renovation costs, law enforcement funding
By Taylor Kaser -
Funding for the remaining work on the courthouse renovation and tax monies for jail funding were top topics from the public for Morrow County Commissioners during the past week’s meetings.
Court Administrator for the Court of Common Pleas Sara Babich relayed a list of items and work still needed for the additional courtroom at the July 11 regular meeting.
Babich began by addressing the need for an audio/visual sound system for the new courtroom. She noted that she has been looking into pricing different systems, and the initial company gave an estimate of around $70,000. After looking into other systems, Babich found systems ranging from $45,198 to $35,600.
All the systems come with licensing fees including updating fees of between $3,000-$4,000 per year for technology updates.
“We’re probably going to have, at this point, $70,000 left,” said Commissioner Tom Whiston of monies left in the Courthouse Renovation Project fund, “and this [the new sound system] probably wasn’t even part of that money. If we have $70,000 left in our contingency fund after we’ve got the movable jury box and everything done– there’s also additional furniture required. If we just did the recording system, we would basically eradicate every fund we have left prior to even putting carpet or anything else in.”
“Judge Hall and Judge Hickson are very aware of the financial situation in the county,” said Babich, “We do a lot with very little.”
“What I’d like to see is a big picture of where we’re going,” said Whiston, “and how we’re going to fund everything.”
She also discussed buying furniture for the court room. Entirely new furniture would cost $20,000, noted Babich, she’s also looking into other options including surplus items, state bid, refurbished, and donations.
Earlier in the meeting the commissioners approved a change in the construction directive for the jury box in the new courtroom. The new jury box will be movable, mounted on an aluminum frame with wheels.
“Funding for the change is coming from the courthouse renovation fund,” stressed Commissioner Tom Harden, “not the general fund budget.” The cost to design and build the jury box is $8,250.
At a previous meeting Harden said he had meet with everyone involved in the project, including architects and the judges. The need for a movable jury box was explained by its dual functionality. The box can be moved to bring the jury closer to the judge and witnesses, and can also be moved to make room for additional tables and proceedings. Movable jury boxes are used in federal courts, this will be the first of its kind in Ohio.
Citizen Glenda Wilson asked if the movable jury box could be paid for from the special project fund? Others in the audience also questioned the necessity of having a specialized jury box, since the courtroom will be equipped with modern sound technology.
“The judges are already using their special projects funds,” answered Whiston. Babich explained the advantages of having a space that could be used for multiple purposes, for jury trials and meetings.
Whiston noted the serious financial situation the county is in.
“My job as the Chairman of the Commissioners is to help decide how we’re going to expend the little funds we have left. We might get to Halloween and that might be it. That’s the cold, hard reality of it.”
Babich discussed that in addition to work in the courtrooms, serious work is needed for the adult probation office at some future date. She also noted the need to have separate areas for adult and juvenile probation. Having separate areas for each is a state mandate.
A bid submitted by Kokosing Construction Company, Inc. was accepted for the CDBG project on Co. Rd. 168 and Kenny Lane, amounting to $104,118.
Directions Offender Services, Inc. submitted a proposal to provide four hours of mental health services per week to the Morrow County Correctional Facility, for $60 per hour over a six month period. Three elements included in the program are: on sight evaluation and needs assessment, on-sight follow-up counseling, and crisis/suicide prevention intervention.
Funding will be paid from the inmates’ commissary account. The proposal was accepted for a 6 month period.
Another bid was accepted from Buckeye Asphalt for the Sheriff’s Office parking lot FOR $75,000.
Transfer of funds were accepted from the Sheriff’s Office to cover overtime and from the general fund to cover juvenile housing, $3,899.20
Discussion at the commissioners July 16 meeting centered around a proposed 1.5% levy of sales and use tax from 1995 that was was passed. The language of the levy, where the funds collected from that levy should go, and how long it was effective were questions considered.
The wording of the levy ballot on May 2, 1995 is as follows: “the Board of County Commissioners of Morrow County proposing to levy a sales and use tax in the amount of one and one-half percent (1.5%) for the purpose of providing revenue for the general fund for necessary services and constructing , acquiring, operating, equipping or repairing a criminal detention facility.”
The question was first brought forth by citizen Glenda Wilson, who received information on the topic from the Board of Elections.
“All the money coming in from the sales tax,” Wilson said in reference to the old levy, “should be going directly out to the [corrections] facility.” Wilson voiced her concerns about a possible new levy being introduced for the Sheriff’s Office, when she believed that funding sources were already in place but not being used properly.
“It says on there [the original ballot] for necessary services,” answered Whiston, “this [levy money] isn’t solely for the jail.”
“It says necessary services and constructing,” countered Wilson, “it doesn’t say necessary services including– it’s all in one part. Services would have been the architect and everything else. If I was voting on that, I definitely thought I was voting for the corrections facility and not for the general fund to have additional money afterward.”
“That’s the way I would read it too.” said Harden.
Wilson remarked, “We have one of two things happening: either it was misrepresented to the public, what we voted on or the money isn’t going where it’s suppose to go.”
“I know that some of the money was used for the jail, I don’t whats happened to it after then.” said Harden.
“It’s not something that was for one or two years to pay it off,” observed Wilson, “it was ongoing and the wording doesn’t change where it goes for. I don’t want another levy put on for the Sheriff’s Department or corrections– to keep them going– when there’s one there.”
“We didn’t put all our tax resources to build a jail.” said Whiston.
“I think this was put on to build the new jail.” expressed Harden.
County Treasurer Dan Green noted that other entities and offices in the county fall under “necessary”. He used his office and the Auditors office as examples, without them, no money could even be collected to put towards the corrections facility.
“The Sheriff has two budgets,” explained Harden about a new levy,” a law enforcement budget and a corrections budget.”
“If you look at this, and we can check with the County Prosecutor,” explained Whiston, “when it says ’ providing revenue for the general fund for necessary services’, in other words we have necessary services– such as the Treasurer and Auditors Office and the Dog Warden. It doesn’t say just that, it says ’ and constructing [the corrections facility]. It doesn’t say that its only for ’ constructing, acquiring, operating, equipping or repairing a criminal detention facility’. Its for that plus all the other necessary services.”
Whiston pointed out that the wording doesn’t indicate that it was only for funding the jail.
“I think in 1995 the intent was to build a new jail and operate it.” said Harden.
Wilson commented that others who have read the ballot wording agreed with her, feeling that the money should be going directly to funding at the corrections facility. She also stated that she felt the matter should be looked over by legal counsel other than just the county prosecutor.
The commissioners will be researching the matter in more detail and consulting with the County Prosecutor.
Unappropriated monies were approved for appropriation in the Development Office for administrative costs, $14,542.
Transfer of funds were approved for the Zoning Office, the Morrow Soil and Water Conservation District, and Job and Family Services.
The renewal the NPDES permit through the Ohio EPA for the operation of the Johnsville Waste Water Treatment Plant was also approved.
There will be no commissioners meeting on July 18.